Climate Expertise Inflation By The BBC

Richard Black’s desire to defend the BBC is natural and even commendable. Still, his or any defence of the (unsigned) Feb 15 “Global warming ‘underestimated’” article is untenable.

That article is clearly misleading.

Black tries to make a point about Field’s political weight and the breadth of the IPCC “Impacts” Working Group remit:

As the new co-chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, he now has a leadership role in the periodic assessments of global climate change that are the most politically significant documents in the field; so his views on the subject will presumably carry some political weight, and are therefore worth reporting.

As to how well qualified someone who started life as a biologist is to pronounce on climate change; well, if you look at the scope of that IPCC working group, it’s extremely broad, and I suggest it would be impossible to find anyone who has formally studied all of the relevant disciplines.

That situation, though, is hardly unknown in science. Even within universities, a dean of science could hardly be expert in every subject in his or her faculty; yet many intelligent and able people seem to make a decent fist of it, and it’s highly unlikely, I would suggest, that Chris Field would have got the job if his peers didn’t think him qualified.

But that’s not the issue with the Feb 15 article. The problem is that the BBC chose to describe Field as a “leading climate scientist“. And whilst Black is right in stating that Field is a leader, and a scientist, and a biologist with experience in the potential impacts of climate change, by all means Field is no “climate scientist“.

Why couldn’t the BBC write of Field as a “leading biologist in the field of climate change“? As things stand instead, casual readers of that article will have no clue of the fact that Chris Field’s take on future temperatures is not a climatologist’s.

A quick search in past BBC news reports reveals how Brian Austin for example, Dean of Science at Heriot Watt University, was characterised first and foremost as the exact kind of expert he was (microbiologist) (“Sponge puzzles superbug experts“, 26/12/2005).

The BBC faux-pas about Field is perhaps telling of a mindset that conflates all kinds of experts under the all-encompassing umbrella of “climate”, whenever anybody mentions climate change/global warming within the IPCC orthodoxy.

And that mindset can only succeed in cheapening up the very concept of “climatologist”.